PITTSBURGH — Kansas State had to play a man short in its biggest game of the season. The way top-seeded Syracuse played in the second half, it really didn’t matter.
A day after they found out leading rebounder Jamar Samuels would be held out because of an eligibility issue, the eighth-seeded Wildcats more than handled themselves on the boards. But they couldn’t stop the Orange from scoring in the second half and lost 75-59 on Saturday in the third round of the East Regional.
“We didn’t lose because we lost Jamar. Let me get that straight now. Because Syracuse is minus a very good player, too,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said, referring to Orange top rebounder Fab Melo, declared ineligible by the school this week for the NCAA tournament.
“We just lost the toughest guy on our team. He’s our toughest kid. He gives us the ability to make some shots against that zone. It gives us a frontline guy who’s a fifth-year senior to deal with the adjustments that you got to make during the course of the game,” he said.
The Wildcats were down 25-24 at halftime, but Syracuse shot 66.7 percent from the field in the second half — including going 5 for 5 from 3-point range — to pull away to a much easier win than it had in the second round against 16th-seeded North Carolina-Asheville.
“They’re too good,” Martin said of the Orange. “Here is the deal with Syracuse. If you’re playing from behind against them, you’re in trouble because of their zone, and their guards are so good that they’re not going to give it to you. They’re going to get it deep in the shot clock and take hard shots.”
As Syracuse was taking and making shots, the Wildcats couldn’t get anything going against the Orange’s 2-3 zone, finishing 21 of 67 from the field (31.3 percent) and 4 of 17 from 3-point range.
“A couple of my shots, they were able to get their hands on and deflect. When you see that happen, you become a little bit hesitant,” said Will Spradling, who had 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting. “Some of our players were a little bit hesitant shooting.
We just needed to step up and knock some shots down.”
Scoop Jardine had 16 points and eight assists, Dion Waiters had 18 points and James Southerland added 15 for the Orange (33-2), who had been struggling lately.
Syracuse scored fewer than 70 points — it averages 74.5 — in five of the last seven games. The Orange shot better than 46.5 percent from the field — their mark for the season — only once, and the stretch included 3-point performances of 1 for 15, 5 for 20 and 3 for 14. Against UNC-Asheville, they shot 44.6 percent overall and 5 for 23 on 3s, and that included making one of their first 13.